What does "waitlisted" mean?

Here's the thing. 

Colleges only have so many "seats" for a given class. When they get more applications than seats, some applicants are denied, and some are waitlisted.

The numbers are kind of staggering. This year, for instance, FIVE of the University of California (UC) schools received more than 100,000 applications. They have room for about 5,500 incoming freshmen. (Holy moly!) Schools DO admit more students than seats, knowing that some students who are accepted will choose to go elsewhere. UC-Berkeley, for example, sent acceptance letters to about 13,000 students, knowing that many of them will not enroll. In the end, they'll get about 5,500 students enrolled - just what they need. If too many students decide to go elsewhere, and they dip below that 5,500 number, they will turn to their waitlist to get the freshman class up to the number they want and need.

Whoosh. So much mathing.



Ugh. Not what we'd been hoping for.

Let's talk about that waitlist. What does it all mean?

1. It means that you are qualified for admission. This is a good thing! Don’t feel bad about yourself! If you were not qualified to attend, you've have gotten a "no thanks" letter.  A waitlist means that you applied to a highly selective school, and that even though you ARE qualified, there is just not enough room for all of the qualified students. Admissions committees have to make hard decisions, and you don't know what you don't know. Maybe they just needed a cello player. Maybe someone else "on the table" has won a Nobel Prize. Maybe someone else is their only applicant from Alaska, and got the last spot before you.  There's no way to know. You can only do what you can do, and you can only control what you can control.

2. It means that you may or may not get an offer of admission. Waitlists are not helpful to students; they are helpful to colleges. They exist to help them meet their enrollment goals. So...while you should not feel badly about yourself, you also should not count on getting off of that waitlist. Make other plans... and then wait. 

What should I do? Anything?

  • YES! Make other plans. Hopefully, you HAVE been offered admission someplace else. Accept an offer, where you would be happy to attend. You can only go to one school anyhow, right? Make some solid plans, and move forward. If you are interested in the waitlist school, keep that option open as long as you like, knowing that it may or may not work out. 
  • Learn about that waitlist. It's totally ok to reach out to the admissions office to learn more about your chances of getting an offer admission from the waitlist. Some schools have a "priority waitlist". Some schools can and will tell you where you are on the waitlist; others will not. Sometimes it depends on your major; sometimes not. The only way you'll know is to ask.
  • If you WANT to stay on the waitlist and hope to get in, let them know that. The college may want a response from you to stay on the waitlist. They may ask for more information, such as updated grades or an additional recommendation. Read your waitlist letter carefully to ensure you comply with their requirements to stay on the waitlist.
  • Advocate for yourself. Be proactive! Tell them how much you want to attend! Prove you have continued to do well academically by providing an updated transcript. You can also request an interview so the admission committee can get to know you and your true desire to attend the institution.
  • And then... make other plans. Unfortunately, many colleges will never open their waitlist. You should have offers on the table, that are a sure thing. Choose one. Turn in your enrollment deposit by May 1. Submit financial aid and housing documents. Get excited! If the waitlist college comes through, great! If not, it's their loss, right? You'll be at a school where you are clearly a better fit, anyhow. 

Being waitlisted is not fun, I know. It stings. Alas, this is life. You won't get every job you want, even when you know you are qualified for it. You won't win every prize or honor. This feeling will come again, at some other point in life, when you don't get something you had really hoped for. But life goes on, and we find the bright side of it. Things work out, in the end, often in bigger and better ways than we'd every anticipated. So - if you're waitlisted - hold your head up high. Make some decisions, and keep on marching forward. Your future awaits you!